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Points of Order

Volume 533: debated on Tuesday 11 October 2011

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In response to a question I asked earlier this afternoon about provisions relating to individual voter registration, the Deputy Prime Minister said that there had been no change from the current position in relation to the civic duty. However, the individual electoral registration White Paper, published on 30 June, stated quite clearly on page 20, paragraph 63:

“It is currently an offence to fail to comply with a request for information from an ERO, or to give false information to an ERO…While we strongly encourage people to register to vote the Government believes the act is one of personal choice and as such there should be no compulsion placed on an individual to make an application to register to vote.”

It goes on to say that from 2014,

“it will therefore be a personal choice whether to respond to the ERO’s request to complete an IER application form.”

I appreciate that the Deputy Prime Minister is a very busy man, but it is quite clear from his answers that he either does not understand his own policy, or has inadvertently misled the House and caused huge confusion. The Government’s proposals mean that those who fail to respond to a household enquiry can be prosecuted, but not those who choose to return an individual application form, thereby diminishing the civic duty. I ask you, Mr Speaker, for guidance on how we can persuade the Deputy Prime Minister to clarify his remarks, because the consultation ends this Friday.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for notice of his point of order. He will understand that this is not a matter for the Chair. All hon. and right hon. Members take responsibility for what they say in this House. However, what he has just said will have been heard on the Treasury Bench, and is of course on the record of the proceedings of the House.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, during the Defence statement, I asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether his officials were, on his instructions, routinely giving out details of his ministerial diary to Adam Werritty. In his reply, the Defence Secretary said:

“that is not what I said. I was perfectly capable, without officials, of telling any of my friends where I would be, if I wanted to meet up with them.”—[Official Report, 10 October 2011; Vol. 533, c. 37.]

Now, the report prepared by Ursula Brennan—I should make it clear that there is no relationship between myself and the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence—makes it absolutely clear that

“it has become apparent that the Defence Secretary provided or asked his office to provide some diary details to Adam Werritty”.

The Defence Secretary denied ordering his officials to give out his diary, praying in aid the permanent secretary’s report, which directly contradicts that claim. Is it no longer the case that what Ministers say in this House has to be true?

There is an obligation on all Members to speak the truth in this House, but my response to the hon. Gentleman is very similar to my response to his right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), who spoke from the Front Bench a few moments ago, namely—and in constitutional terms this is very important—that these are not matters for the Chair; all Members are responsible for what they say in this House. The hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) is, however, a wily campaigner, and in the course of raising his attempted point of order with me he has registered his views firmly on the record. I think that we will leave it there for today.